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What Does This $120 Price Drop Mean?

PhotoJoseph's picture
January 9, 2011 - 8:55pm

I’m going to borrow a page from the book of my friend David Schloss, who runs, and post an op-ed piece here with the full disclaimer that this is opinion(ated) editorial.

Spoiler alert… this is all good news.

Both here on ApertureExpert and over on MacCreate, David and I have seen a lot of discussion (privately and publicly) on what this price drop “really means”. Some people seem quite convinced that it’s the end of Aperture, that a $79 app can’t possibly be any good, and/or that Apple doesn’t care about its users anymore. Allow me to share some thoughts on the subject, and again, with the full disclaimer that I don’t know anything that you don’t… so if you want to disagree with me, go right ahead, but I am not going to argue with anyone about this.

Is $79 for Aperture the beginning of the end?

Quite the oposite. Why would Apple lower the price of the application, feature it prominently on the new App Store — encouraging more people to buy it — only to then stop supporting the app and piss off even more users than they would have originally? This price drop will get more Aperture users, not less. And that’s good for everybody. If anything, I’d suggest this is a new beginning for Aperture.

Is this a clearance sale?

Right… ‘cause there’s a warehouse full of 1’s and 0’s that they need to empty out. That’s the real use of that multi-billion dollar data center in North Carolina. Not.

Notice that the boxed copy is still $199. If anything, I find that curious, but maybe there aren’t too many boxes left over (it’s not like this move took Apple by surprise… they knew they were going to do this and would have planned for it). I’d imagine those boxes will be off to the recycling center soon enough. Why buy a hard copy when you can download it digitally—over and over again? No more lost installation CDs, no more lost serial numbers… it’s software nirvana. If anything they’ll keep a a few boxes for those that don’t have the bandwidth to download the app.

Does a lower price mean Apple doesn’t care?

Again, quite the oposite. Apple loves Apple users. And Apple loves Apple users buying more Apple hardware. More people buying Aperture (a resource-hungry application) will encourage more people to upgrade their hardware sooner rather than later. That’s good for Apple, which is good for their bank account, which is good for their R&D, and good for their engineering department.

Does a lower price mean it’s no longer a Professional Application?

Totally!! Just kidding… of course not. Look at the video space. When Final Cut Pro came out for $999, it was advertised as being 98% off, because the nearest competitor was a $50,000 proprietary system. Few people took FCP seriously then, but look at it today… it’s the most widely used video editing software in the world. When Aperture first came out, it was $499 — half the price of Final Cut Pro, and there was nothing else like it on the market to compare it to. Over the years, Adobe released Lightroom, which today sells for $299, and Apple ultimately dropped the price of Aperture down to $199 and now $79. During that time, Aperture got more features, not fewer. The application got faster, more stable, more capable. And as a bonus—it got easier to use! Yes there are those that begrudge the ease of use of Aperture as making it “too simple”, but those are people with too much time on their hands (and the probably secretly hate cameras like Canon Rebels because they make good photography cheaper, easier, and more accessible). I know photographers—lots of them. Heck, I’m one. And you know what we like to do? Make pictures. Not spend all day messing around on the computer. In one of the great ironies of simplicity, the better Aperture is, the less time I’ll spend in it. Because I’ll be getting my job done faster, and getting back to shooting. I didn’t get into this business to stare at a screen all day. I got into it to make photographs.

And going back to a previous point, the lower price means more users. More users means more people for Apple to please, more incentive to release a new version, more incentive to make the new version even better.

So why lower the price at all?

I can think of two very good, sensible reasons to do this.

1) Upgrades. Look at the App Store for the iPhone/iPad/iPod. How many upgrades to you see? None. There’s no mechanism to sell a software upgrade—all upgrades are free. So when you need to release a new, “paid” upgrade, you have to sell it all over again. Apple tested this policy with iLife and iWork. How much was the upgrade to iLife ‘11? There was none—$49 for the box, regardless of what you did or didn’t own before. Same for iWork, and even the OS. Why make it painful for users to get into your software? How about making it affordable for everyone, and if you eventually decide you don’t like it, or want to switch to someone else’s software, you’re not losing a big initial investment. I wish Adobe Photoshop was the same way (among other things).

The successful 99¢ app on the App Store proved something—you can get rich selling software for a buck. More affordable software = more users.

2) Piracy. If you buy a boxed copy of Aperture, Final Cut Studio, or anything else, there’s nothing but the law stopping you from posting a copy online for others to download, burning copies of the DVD and selling them from your basement, or any other form of piracy. This cuts into the profits of the software developer—considerably. I used to work for a company where our known piracy ratio was 10:1. Ouch. But when you download an app from the App Store, guess what—only you can use it (initial App Store software security issues aside, which obviously will be fixed). Over on MacCreate, there’s even an interesting look at the fine print of the EULA (End User License Agreement) comparing the downloadable version to the boxed copy—and that’s good news, too. When it’s harder (and eventually, hopefully impossible) to pirate the software, people who really want it will have to pay for it. With more people paying, you can afford to drop the price. And that makes it affordable to more people. It’s the software circle of life.

What does this mean for ApertureExpert?

It means more users!! I don’t make a penny off software sales of Aperture, so I rely on users buying the app, and coming here to learn how to use it. If anything, it will encourage me to lower the price of my eBooks. When an app cost $199, buying a $19 eBook seemed reasonable. Suddenly when the software is only $79, perhaps $19 is too high. Time will tell :-)

So, we’re all gonna live?

Yes, I think so. I think that we’re all in a good place right now, Aperture is selling better than ever (it’s still #1 for Top Grossing apps on the App Store, with a 4.5 star rating), and all those users are going to be clamoring louder than ever for more, more, more. If I were the product manager of Aperture, I’d be smiling a pretty big smile right now.

If you want to read a little more opinion, be sure to check out David’s op-ed pieces on MacCreate: Forum Posts OTD and Aperture Licensing Truth and Aperture #1 Grossing Product on App Store – Apple Tells Adobe to Kiss Off.

-Joseph @ApertureExpert

Update on January 12, 2011 - 7:58pm by Joseph @ApertureExpert

Be sure to read my follow-up, A Clever Idea for the Future of Aperture, too.

Apple Aperture

Couldn’t agree with you more. The price drop can’t be anything but good news!

The meaning of this is that people who can’t afford REQUIRED memory upgrades can now afford software that wont run on their year old 2GB Macbook Pros.

As much as we may love aperture, this software has system requirements that are far above what Apple considered “minimum” (1GB) or recommended (2GB). My 4GB 09 MBP chugs with this software.

I totally agree with your observations. No doubt many theories could be conceived of to explain this price drop, but whatever people come up with, I can just imagine the sweat that must be dripping from Adobe’s brow. The price contrast between Aperture 3 and Lightroom 3 must be giving them fits right now, but frankly, they have no one to blame but themselves. LR will always lag behind AP because to improve it to where it ought to be would bring it perilously close to their golden child: PS. Unless something drastic happens within the Adobe compound, LR will continue to be sold as a partner to PS, and for a price that sets it beyond reach of most aspiring photographers.

In this environment, Apple’s move is simply brilliant, and totally responsive to the emerging media-driven world. Cameras shoot video, audio, stills, and must be able to connect to all sorts of Internet platforms. Apple’s Aperture bundling strategy is incredibly positioned to take advantage of this emerging world. Adobe, on the other hand, is becoming the Microsoft of the photographic world: tons of complex, expensive programs that the average user can barely figure out. Speed, pricing, and ease of use are simply not on Adobe’s side when it comes to the way the digital generation moves these days. This doesn’t mean that Adobe is going anywhere in the short term, but Apple’s recent moves (pricing and upgraded capabilities) must definitely have given them a “Malox moment.” At this point, Apple just needs to stay the course, while Adobe must radically change their strategy. And that my friend is what a market advantage is all about: leading the market in the direction you want.


I agree with the observations made here and hope it’s all true, but…. (and hate to be the bearer of bad news) remember these same or similar observations were made when Apple drastically dropped the price of “Shake” and promised something really awesome was coming. Instead of giving us awesome, Steve just axed the whole application. That’s the problem when a company is run by the whims of a megalomaniac. I certainly hope Apple stays the course because I love Aperture and it’s ease of use.

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